The recent announcement by Huppin's that it plans to close its downtown consumer-electronics store came as a shock to me, as no doubt to many longtime patrons, and got me reminiscing about the place.
I don't remember the first time I walked into the unique family-owned establishment 34 years ago, shortly after moving to Spokane, but I do recall clearly the pleasant sensory overload I felt each time I passed through that portal on Main Street over the decades that followed.
To someone like me who's obsessed with learning aboutand, when limited discretionary cash allows, procuringthe latest in audio and video gadgets, it's always been an experience akin to a hungry child wandering slack-jawed around a candy store.
Gleaming stereo amplifiers and receivers, powerful speakers in beautifully sculpted wood enclosures, large-screen TVs with dazzling picture quality, and high-end cameras and lenses all vied for visual attention.
Also, particularly during my visits there during the '80s and '90s, from which I still have receipts for equipment I bought, the store was always bustling with energy as customers roamed and chatted with friendly, accommodating salespeople.
Seemingly always there overseeing the buzz of activity, and just as engaged with customers and employees, were Sam M. "Little Sam" and Sam I. "Big Sam" Huppin. Company founder Sam Huppin died in 1922, and his sons, Abraham, or "Abe," and Big Sam took over the operation. Abe's son, Little Sam, joined the company in the 1950s and helped guide its transition into a camera and stereo equipment retailer. Filling the top management role in more recent years, of course, has been Murray Huppin, Little Sam's son, representing the fourth generation of Huppins to head the family enterprise.
Dating as far back as I can recall, Huppin's has been widely regarded for having the most knowledgeable consumer-electronics specialists in the Spokane areaan enviable reputation for any business. Like many customers, I'm sure, I came to know a number of those employees on a first-name basis, and even when I wasn't prepared to lay down money on some newfangled audio-video component, I enjoyed browsing and chatting with them about the hottest new devices and market trends.
They might have grown resentful of such time-wasting intrusions by people like me who often clearly weren't there on a buying mission, but they never showed it. Those impressions, together with the joy of supporting a locally owned family business, made me a lifelong Huppin's fan.
Like all businesses, though, and particularly those dating back more than a century, Huppin's has had to adapt to the changing times and the competition to survive. It started as a small tailor shop in 1908, then morphed into dry goods and pawnbroking before getting into electronics in the 1950s. Since then, it's had to adjust to the industry conversion from analog to digital technology, while fending off ever-increasing competition locally and establishing and growing an online presence.
Now it's having to adjust again.
The loss of the downtown store is lamentable, but the company itself appears still to be healthy, which is good to see. Once it completes a big moving sale downtown, it plans to consolidate its brick-and-mortar presence at its relatively new North Side store, where it has roughly twice the inventory space.
It has said it plans to expand the hours of that store, and also intends to grow its Huppins.com presence and continue its OneCall online mail-order operation, which together account for a major portion of its sales. It launched the OneCall.com store in 1994 as an early entrant into the online retail market.
I'll miss the downtown store after it shuts down in the next couple of weeks, but I'll look forward to creating new pleasurable experiences at the North Side locationeven if they're never quite the same.
Subscribe today to our free E-Newsletters!SUBSCRIBE